Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Time to talk about Syria

A new sense of urgency has entered international efforts to solve the Syrian crisis, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Now that the Iranian nuclear deal is out of the way, diplomats from the major countries and the region have been putting their heads together to seek a way out of the Syrian crisis.

So far, there have been no big waves in the sea of diplomacy, but the surface has been rippling with initiatives. Even the Iranians have been putting in their two-pence worth, and the Omanis, who had earlier kept a cautious distance, also seem to be joining the action.

Syria has been on the agenda at half a dozen high-level meetings. On 3 August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Qatar with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, for example. While little is known about the outcome of the talks, it was clear that Syria was a central issue.

One cause for optimism is that the Syrian regime’s military losses over the past few weeks may have softened its position. Another is that Iran, now in a friendly mood towards the West, may be more inclined towards a solution.

On 6 August, the Syrian foreign minister conferred with his Omani counterpart in Muscat, a meeting that seemed to signal a more active role for Oman in the Syrian quest for peace. The Syrian minister also visited Iran for high-level talks.

A top Syrian security official, who remains unnamed, also recently visited Saudi Arabia to explore possibilities for a solution.

Although the Syrian opposition remains on the whole opposed to an Iranian role in settling the crisis, some members have relaxed their demand for the immediate departure of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and suggested instead that a timetable for his leaving power may be acceptable.

In Cairo, Brussels and Istanbul, Syrian opposition members have been discussing the formulation of a joint policy for the peace talks. Although nothing tangible has emerged from these meetings, they may have served to establish some ground rules for future negotiations.

Russia is preparing for a third round of talks between representatives of the Syrian regime and the opposition. This time the preparations have involved consultations with members of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF), which had boycotted earlier talks. The Saudi foreign minister is said to be planning a trip to Moscow in the near future.

During an ASEAN meeting in Kuala Lumpur recently, Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, had talks with the Syrian foreign minister and the US secretary of state.

Meanwhile, Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy to Syria, has envisaged a plan for talks involving different committees working on various aspects of the Syrian problem. Not to be outdone, the Iranians have also put together an initiative calling for a ceasefire, an interim government, constitutional guarantees for minorities and elections.

None of this is totally new, but there is now a sense of urgency that has been lacking for the past year at least, when the Iranian talks seemed to be sapping the energy of regional diplomacy.

Commenting on the recent flurry of diplomatic efforts, former NCSROF leader Hadi Al-Bahrah stressed the need to work within the Geneva framework. “Any ideas that stray away from the Geneva framework cannot be implemented,” he said.

He added that a serious bid for a solution must start with Al-Assad’s removal from power. “The presence of Al-Assad in power is a main source of extremism. His removal from power will end it,” he said.

However, Samir Soayfan, a key Syrian opposition figure, has doubts that the current efforts will lead to much. “All the current political initiatives are futile because Russia and Iran are still sticking to their guns. The conditions for a solution are not yet met,” Soayfan said.

Fawwaz Haddad, another opposition member, agrees with this assessment. For a solution to come about, the opposition Free Syrian Army must receive more support, the Islamist militias should be disbanded and foreign fighters must be prevented from coming into the country, he said.

“Iran should be prevented from interfering in Syria, and Hezbollah should be forced to withdraw,” Haddad said.

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